Lord Hollick's send-off from United Business Media, the company he has shaped and run for 31 years, was less than glorious. His last annual meeting last week was overshadowed by a shareholder revolt over a £250,000 special bonus awarded to him (he has since decided to forego it). That was a pity, as his record was pretty good. As UBM pointed out, £100 invested in 1978, when Lord Hollick (then plain Clive Hollick) took the helm, would be worth £15,000 today, outperforming the FTSE over that period by 50 per cent. But the change of management (David Levin, an outside appointee, is now in charge, while the chief operating officer Malcolm Wall has also gone) and the recent sale of one of the group's major businesses, NOP, makes for a good time to reassess the attractions of UBM.
The company sold out of its major consumer media interests - its ITV franchises and The Express newspaper group - five years ago. The problem was that UBM then invested in US hi-tech publishing, a market that went into a tailspin (contained within CMP US).
NOP was a market research business that was essentially home-grown. It was supposedly core but was put up for sale this year and fetched a great price - £383m (of which £300m will be returned to shareholders). UBM felt that NOP was not a big enough to be a global player.
What remains at UBM is its PR Newswire division, which distributes press releases, and its trade exhibitions and business-to-business publications interests: CMP US (hi-tech and healthcare), CMP Asia (most exhibitions), CMPi (UK), CMP Medica (European healthcare). There are also some UK consumer titles left within UAP: Dalton's Weekly and Exchange & Mart.
Mr Levin is likely to keep most of these with the possible exception of UAP, reckoned to be worth £65m. Add to that the other assets already identified as non-core, which includes UBM's 35 per cent stake in Five television, and you could have significant further disposals over the next 12 months. Morgan Stanley, the broker, puts a value of £270m on these non-core interests, including £200m for the stake in Five. Mr Levin, who started a month ago, has already spoken of making acquisitions, though he described these as "bolt-on". At 481.5p, UBM shares are pretty fully valued but worth holding to see how Mr Levin does.
Place your bets on Gaming Corp
The phenomenal growth in internet gambling is akin to the dot.com boom all over again. Except this time it appears to be more profitable.
Gaming Corporation, whose website, Casino.co.uk, acts like a Yahoo! or Google for internet gambling sites, said yesterday it had had a "monumental" first six months of the year as it announced interim results to the end of March. Turnover was up 80 per cent to £10m and it is now just about breaking even. Gaming companies pay Gaming Corp every time a user clicks through to their site from Casino.co.uk, and 40 per cent of its 3 million users end up on Gaming Corp's own casino businesses.
Since March, the company has signed two more lucrative deals. It is now supplying casino games to Orange mobile phone users and it has also bought another gaming website portal. Gambling.com is the US's largest internet gambling search engine and appears as the first result of a Google search for "gambling".
In Casino.co.uk and Gambling.com, Gaming Corp has two prime domain names in a fast-growing market where there are already hundreds of operators. Gambling.com alone is on course to make more than £1m in profit this year. There is plenty of growth yet to come. Buy.
Cardpoint offers payout prospects
For consumers, it was good news but for investors, bad: Cardpoint, one of the major operators of fee-paying cash machines in the UK, has suffered severe delays in converting the free cash dispensers it acquired from HBOS last year to charging.
Consequently, earnings will suffer greatly this financial year to the end of September: yesterday the company halved its forecast for 2005 pre-tax profit to £4m from £7.9m. A little surprisingly, it has set the bar higher and now wants to have 275 machines from the HBOS estate charging by its year-end, compared with the previously targeted 250.
There were several bright spots in yesterday's statement: the 150 converted HBOS machines have brought in more money than expected because many consumers have continued to use them, despite the charges. Charges have also risen, up to £1.85 for a single cash withdrawal. The group's results will fully benefit from the converted HBOS machines next year when profits could well exceed £11.3m.
Cardpoint achieved respectable like-for-like revenue growth of 9 per cent in the first half. It is thought to have approached Moneybox to defend itself against a possible takeover bid from a large US rival. At 117.5p, it's a buy, but not without risk.
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